Chicago’s 47th annual Pride Parade was filled with emotion as people honored victims of the June 12 mass shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub.
But that didn’t stop the party from happening once the tears were wiped away.
The parade stepped off under a light rain with a tribute to the 49 victims who were killed in the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history. People marched at the front of the parade holding large portraits of the victims who were killed while leading everyone in a moment of silence to honor them.
The tribute brought 51-year-old Ron Stoczynski to tears as he remembered his friend Eddie Sotomayor who was killed in the attack.
“I’m here in his honor to remember him and celebrate,” he said. “I know we’ll never forget, but we have to move on. We’ve suffered, we’ve cried, and today we must celebrate.”
Carl Bridges, 66, said he does not go to the parade every year — this was his 10th time over the last 25 years. He came out this year because it was important to celebrate after the shooting.
“There are moments when you have to give into the pain, but when you do that, you can move forward,” Bridges said. “We’ve had this tragedy and now we unite, we heal and we have a new beginning.”
The skies cleared shortly after the moment of silence ended, and the parade erupted into celebration. More than 150 floats filled the parade route — which began at Montrose and Broadway and ended at Diversey and Sheridan — with music, dancing, and Pride paraphernalia.
About 1 million people came to cheer on the procession, according to police estimates. They wore an assortment of rainbow and waved rainbow Pride flags high in the air.
Security was much more visible than in past years as parade organizers responded in light of the Orlando shooting as well as threats to other Pride celebrations nationwide.
This marked Rep. Mike Quigley’s 34th consecutive year attending the parade. He encouraged people not to let the aftermath of the Orlando shooting dampen their moods.
“Some years are going to be better than others, but every year we have to show unity,” he said.
Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, applauded the parade’s attendees for reacting to the Orlando shooting by celebrating their LGBT pride.
“The major tool that [has been] used against the LGBTQ community was shame and putting us in the shadows. We fought back by being out and proud,” Johnson said. “It’s the strongest tool we have in our arsenal to stand up against hate and fear.”
The support for LGBT people at the parade was “magnetic,” said Lynn Barr, who attended the parade while vacationing from South Africa. She said she has gay and lesbian friends in South Africa who do not have pride celebrations like Chicago’s, so she was happy to support them.
“My son lives here, and as soon as he mentioned [the parade], I wanted to come see it for my friends,” she said.
Jim Henritze, of Lakeview, marched in the first Chicago Pride Parade in 1970 and has attended every parade since the tradition began. This year he came with his husband of 28 years. The two legally married four years ago when it first became legal in Davenport, Iowa.
“When I first came here, things were very different. The bars were scary because there were raids and everything else,” he said. “So we had to stand up for [LGBT people], and if it hadn’t been for that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
“Every year is special to me. The parade always gets better, but this year, I’m especially proud,” he said.